The Definition of Love

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Recently a mother who has undergone IVF posted a picture of her beautiful baby girl lying asleep in the middle of hundred of syringes. Why? To illustrate the physical and emotional turmoil experienced by people who go through IVF. The child’s mother finally succeeded in becoming pregnant after more than a year-and-a-half of cycles.

It was shared more than 3,000 times as parents around the globe have opened up about their stories of trying to conceive a baby biologically related to them.

The baby’s mother told couples trying to conceive to “hang in there”.

“The needles were the easy part. It was the emotional struggle, the ups and downs, that really took a toll, I waited a long time for a husband to come. And then by that time it was difficult to get pregnant.”

What a poignant image of a gorgeous miracle baby.

Sperm Shortage

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I was shocked to learn last week that there are just nine men registered as sperm donors at the national sperm bank. 9! This is terrible news for anyone requiring donor sperm to have a child, particularly lesbian couples or those with male fertility issues.

It is thought that a change in UK law in 2005, removing anonymity for sperm donors, is thought to have led to a drop in volunteers. The change in the rules in 2005 means children conceived using donor eggs or sperm will be able to trace their biological parent in the same way as children who are adopted. Those children will have no legal or financial claim against the donor parent. Equally donors do not have the right to trace their offspring.

I hope that men will not feel too discouraged by this. By donating they have the potential to do something truly wonderful for another couple. Equally I hope that men who are unable to naturally conceive do not feel threatened by the prospect of their sperm donor coming into their child’s life and making some parental claim over their child. They will be the father – legally and emotionally.

I suppose it depends on how one defines a father. In my opinion the ability to provide sperm is not what makes a father, a father is infinitely more. I say this both based on the wonderful father I have, but mostly from watching my incredible husband father our son. Being a father is about love, commitment and devotion. It’s about feeding at 3am, wiping away tears, laughing and giggling, wiping bottoms, singing at bath time, early morning cuddles and so so much more.

McPregnant

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Another week and another celebrity couple to reveal that they have undergone IVF. McBusted star Harry Judd and his wife Izzy have publicised that the baby they are expecting in January is the result of IVF. Talking of their struggle to conceive and the heartache of a miscarriage from their first attempt at IVF last year they explained…

“You feel like you are never going to be the ones who get to say, ‘We are having a baby’. That is why we feel so blessed now,” 

“In an ideal world when you’re ready to start a family you hope you will conceive in the first few months of trying,” says Harry. “We were like, no, no we won’t need IVF, it won’t be us. IVF was like something you didn’t talk about. We thought it would be fine.”

“Every baby is a miracle but we do feel so very lucky,” says Izzy, 31, who was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries in her twenties.

“I never wanted to stop believing that we would have a family,” says Izzy. “But you do feel like someone has pressed pause on your life and you can’t go anywhere.”

The couple lost count of the number of times people asked them if they wanted to have a family. “This was always so impossible to answer and felt like my heart was breaking every time,” says Izzy

If you are struggling to conceive this must echo how you feel, and if you are going through IVF at the moment I hope you are as successful as they have been.

Humans Of New York

If you don’t follow Humans of New York on social media then you should. The blog which has over ten million followers provides a worldwide audience with daily glimpses into the lives of strangers on the streets of New York City. The photos and captions are personal, emotive and very moving. Currently the photographer has gone ‘on tour’ and has left the US to capture images from the streets of Iran. This one caught my attention.

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“It took us ten years, countless doctor appointments, and three miscarriages to have her. So we never feel bothered by her cries.”

(Namakabroud, Iran)

Isn’t it amazing to think that all over the world people are going through fertility struggles and are being blessed with the miracle of a baby. If I was to pass this couple in the street I would have no idea how much we have in common.

Mothers Over 40

Portrait of a beautiful middle aged pregnant female smiling on the couch

The debate surrounding the fertility of older mothers has raged on in recent weeks. Enough now, we get it! Yes, delaying motherhood can be catastrophic as fertility plummets after 39. However as Robert Winston, the IVF pioneer and broadcaster, pointed out at The European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology’s annual conference in Lisbon, there are also benefits of delaying having a baby. Lord Winston said older mothers, who have had time to gain skills and education, as well as build strong relationships, can provide children with a more stable upbringing. So concerned are we to point out the negatives that we fail to notice that there are also positives to being a more mature mother. Women of 40 and upwards have a plethora of reasons for delaying motherhood. Whether it is due to demanding careers, further education, financial circumstances or relationship stability, some women have been in the position to have children earlier. Berating them is not constructive. The press has ensured women are aware of the facts so instead of fear-mongering maybe it is now time to support and learn from women who have left motherhood till later in life.

Happy Gay Pride

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This weekend the streets of London were filled with fun and excitement as Gay Pride was held in the capital. I realised that I am yet to post a single post that acknowledges that gay couples also struggle to create their families. They undergo IVF to conceive and have for decades. So how does it work?

  • Lesbian couples often “share” the cycle. One partner undergoes stimulation of the ovaries and egg retrieval and the other carries the pregnancy. It is also possible for lesbian couples to undergo simultaneous embryo transfers and carry concurrently with the same due date. Subsequent pregnancies using frozen embryos can be carried by either woman.
  • Gay men need the help of either one or two women to complete an IVF cycle. The same woman may be the egg donor and the surrogate carrier, or different women may fulfill each role.
  • There are currently no procedures that permit a same-sex couple to conceive in a way that combines their own genes. The closest approximation is when a lesbian couple uses a brother’s sperm for insemination of his sister’s partner’s/wife’s eggs or when two men use a sister’s eggs, fertilized by her brother’s partner’s / husband’s sperm in a surrogacy cycle. This is also done by heterosexual couples in IVF who need donor eggs or sperm.

Ugh IVF is both a stressful ordeal and an absolute miracle. If you are going through IVF at the moment, whether you are straight or gay, good luck!

22 Things You Should Know About Fertility

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My husband stumbled across this comprehensive list of all the MANY fertility issues you may encounter on your journey to pregnancy. Woah, it’s a miracle any of us are here when there seems so bloody impossible to get pregnant!

Take a look: http://tinyurl.com/ku7xxz3

Right Place, Right Time

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For the first time a new test has been developed that tailors the timing of IVF treatment to a woman’s individual cycle. The scientists behind the technique believe that IVF frequently fails because the embryo is transferred at the wrong time, missing a crucial fertility window. The new test pinpoints a woman’s optimum time for treatment and in pilot studies the approach significantly boosted success rates.

There are more than 60,000 IVF cycles in Britain each year, but just 24% of these treatments lead to live births. Clinics currently check the visual appearance of the womb lining using ultrasound, giving a general indication of health. In the pilot study, the test was given to 85 women who had each experienced on average five rounds of IVF that had failed at the implantation stage. When the gene analysis was used as a guide, 33% of those treated had a successful implantation simply by just changing the day.

Nick Macklon, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Southampton, believes that issues linked to the womb lining explain around two-thirds of cases of recurrent implantation failure, with around one-third of cases being due to embryo abnormalities. He asserts that these tests could significantly improve success rates.

Eat Yourself Pregnant

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Zita West, a midwife and fertility expert, believes a good diet ‘forms the bedrock of getting a woman’s body baby-ready and a man making healthy sperm’. In her new book, Eat Yourself Pregnant: Essential Recipes for Boosting Your Fertility Naturally, she explains which foods can help with conception. Fascinated by the role nutrition takes in every couple’s ability to have a baby she came to the conclusion that micronutrients play a big role in getting pregnant – both naturally and through assisted conception – with deficiencies having significant effects on fertility for both men and women. When meeting a couple she investigates their digestion and gut health, toxicity, immunity, and how much their states of mind are affecting their bodies. But don’t worry this book does not eliminate bread, chocolate, cheese and dairy. It is not a faddy diet. The focus is on nourishing the body in a positive, sustainable way.

She explains that mood, weight and hormones can change rapidly according to where a woman is in her cycle. It is possible to support your body’s monthly shifts through your diet. Here are her rules for your cycle.

Phase 1

On the first day of your period when you may feel lethargic enjoy warm, nourishing foods and a diet rich in iron and vitamin C, as these nutrients help to replenish the iron that you lose with your period. Good sources of iron include lean red meat, pumpkin seeds, beans and pulses, dried apricots and raisins, shellfish and dark green leafy vegetables. For B-vitamins include whole grains, lamb, beef, poultry, shellfish, eggs, and dairy products, leafy green vegetables, yeast extract and nutritional yeast flakes. Most fruits and vegetables will provide good levels of vitamin C particularly citrus fruits, berries, kiwi fruit, leafy green vegetables and red pepper.

Phase 2

During phase two of your cycle oestrogen is on the rise as your body prepares for ovulation. This is usually a time when you’ll burst with energy. Foods rich in capsaicin, isoflavones and L-arginine (such as spicy foods, tofu and watermelon) encourage the body to make nitric oxide (NO). This compound helps to dilate your blood vessels, easing blood flow through your whole system, which is good news for your reproductive organs. During this phase, stock up on your B-vitamins, which are important for hormonal balance. B-vitamins also help with healthy cell division. Lecithin will help to keep your cell membranes healthy. Keep eating the vitamin-C-rich foods as this vitamin is thought to increase the amount of water in your cervical mucus, making it more plentiful. For healthy implantation of an egg, the immune system needs to be strong. For this reason, stock up on vitamin D. Exposing your skin to sunlight is the best way to get your body to manufacture this vitamin, but it is also present in salmon and sardines, and in shiitake mushrooms.

Phase 3

Next is the luteal phase of your cycle. The corpus luteum, that produces progesterone to thicken the womb lining, close the cervix and maintain a pregnancy, contains a high level of betacarotene. During this phase, try to include plenty of betacarotene-rich foods, including butternut squash, carrots, collards, kale, spinach, potato and mustard greens.

Phase 4

Lastly, in stage four, if no fertilisation has occurred, your hormone levels start to fall. During this phase you may begin to feel more lethargic again and crave sweet foods. Allow yourself the odd treat, but try to keep your blood sugar stable.

Finally do not forget that substituting foods containing fat with low-fat products, to avoid weight gain is a bad idea as these products often contain trans fats, sugar and sweeteners. Ovulation rates were 38 per cent better among women who used whole milk, a study found.

Wow some pretty amazing advice there. Happy fertile eating!

Progress

EGG_2565177b Yesterday the UK government set out new draft regulations which will allow donor DNA from a ‘second mother’ to be implanted into a defective egg. Mitochondrial donation, known as the “three-parent” baby technique, was deemed not to be a genetic modification that would, as critics feared, lead to the “slippery slope” of designer babies. MPs discussed the issues of medical ethics and scientific terminology at length and reached a pleasing decision.
Mitochondria is a part of the cell cytoplasm outside the central nucleus where chromosomes are located. They convert glucose to something called ATP, which is the universal energy currency of each and every cell in the body. Around one in every 200 babies born in the UK has a severe mitochondrial disease. Although rare, the disorders can be passed to future generations through the maternal line. Examples of mitochondrial diseases include conditions that cause muscle wasting, nerve damage, loss of sight and heart failure.
This is a brilliant development for families affected by mitochondrial diseases. I am thrilled that those with genetic abnormalities will have the opportunity to have the healthy children they so desperately want.

The Real Cost of Infertility

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This week, at the fourth and final session of the Progress Educational Trust’s annual conference Professor Lord Robert Winston did not shy away from controversial infertility topics. His talk looked at infertility’s true costs – to society, to families and to women.

He talked about the infertility experience – how it affects individuals and couples, not only medically and physically, but emotionally and in terms of relationships.

Infertility, he said, is misunderstood by the health service – it is seen as a disease that needs treatment. Doctors in other specialties view the infertility procedure as bizarre – no-one reaches straight for coronary surgery when there’s a pain in the chest, he said, as that can be caused by many things. However, when someone can’t have children, the treatment is IVF. Most of the time, he says, there is no serious attempt to make a clear diagnosis of the problem – and this can leave patients ’empty-handed’, both in terms of their finances and their chance of having a child. In what he called a ‘chronic problem’, one of the worst aspects of the health service, which he views as ‘incredibly badly run, for a long time’ is the ‘maternity market’.

He also estimated that IVF cycles could be provided for less than £1,000: ‘IVF should not cost the kind of money that is currently being spent’. Where are the regulators in all this, he asked? He went on to describe it as a ‘bleak picture of poor diagnosis, misdiagnosis and selling of uncharted treatment’.

When asked about clinics in the UK who have partnerships with clinics overseas Lord Winston said it can’t be regulated and neither can other treatments which patients go overseas to get because they are not legal here. He mentioned the Fertility Show, held in November in London, where stands advertised things such as sex selection, not available here. He also pointed out that overseas clinics can advertise on the London Underground things that if they were UK practitioners would be illegal and have them struck off the medical register. These ‘loopholes’ are dangerous, he said, and he believes the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority should intervene.

None of this is new but it shows that the world of infertility is not well regulated and the true cost on patients is immeasurable. What do you think?